Archive for Sunday, May 22, 2005

Battle over sex education may be looming

Evolution debate may have been just the first round for moderates, conservatives

May 22, 2005


— The political war between moderates and conservatives on the state Board of Education over evolution may have just been a tune-up for the next battle - sex education.

The board was supposed to have considered draft standards for physical education and health, which covers sex education, at its May 11 meeting.

But the item was rescheduled because a number of board members wanted to attend arguments that day before the Kansas Supreme Court over the new school finance law.

The issue will reappear at the June 14 meeting of the state Board of Education.

"They are next in line," board member Carol Rupe, of Wichita, said of sex education standards used by Kansas public schools.

Rupe, considered a moderate on the board, said the conservatives, who hold a 6-4 majority on the board, next want to propose changes to the draft standards that pertain to health education.

The draft standards for high school students say that students must know "the importance and benefits of abstinence behavior and risk-reducing strategies in the areas of substance use and sexuality."

The battle line, Rupe said, is between those like herself who believe sex education should be "abstinence-based" and those who want it to be "abstinence-only"

Abstinence-based means students are taught that the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from having sex. They also are told that if they are sexually active there are ways to reduce the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, such as the use of condoms and birth control.

Abstinence-only means students are told not to have sex until marriage. They are not taught about contraceptives.

Rupe said it would be irresponsible to teach only abstinence when some high school students are sexually active.

Conservatives react

Conservative board members contacted by the Lawrence Journal-World said they weren't sure there was going to be a fight over sex education, but some said they supported abstinence-only.

"Is there going to be a controversy? We will see," said Board Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative from Arkansas City.

Abrams said abstinence was the only sure method to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

He disagreed with teaching students about using condoms, which he said weren't 100 percent safe. That would be like saying to youngsters that if they're going to smoke, smoke filtered cigarettes, he said.

But Abrams added, "I'm not going to lead that fight" on abstinence-only.

Earlier this month, Abrams led the fight to hold hearings on science standards that provided three days of testimony from witnesses who disparaged the teaching of evolution. The hearings drew international attention and ended in bitter rhetoric, underscoring the divisions on the board.

When read the part of the sex education standards that talked about abstinence and risk-reducing strategies, board member Kathy Martin, a conservative from Clay Center, said she had no problem with that language.

"I just don't think we ought to be giving condoms out in high schools," she said.

General guidelines

The standards are used as guidelines for teachers but physical and health education curricula are determined by individual school districts.

Cynthia Akagi, an assistant professor of health education at Kansas University, was chairwoman of the committee of health teachers and school nurses that drew up the draft standards.

She said the abstinence-based standards would "enable teachers to teach our students the information they will need to make good, positive choices."

She said abstinence-only was not effective for a lot of students who would not have that message reinforced at home. Akagi, a native Kansan who travels the state to help provide health education, said she knew of no school in the state that provided condoms to students.

In Lawrence, Lynda Allen, the school district's director of math and sciences, which includes health and physical education, said the district used more of the abstinence-based approach.

She said the district was trying to come up with ways to fit more health education into the curriculum.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.